A wise man phoned our offices the other day from another town, and began talking about the SWOT process for analysis: Strengths. Weaknesses. Opportunities. Threats.
The context was Roanoke’s downtown, and the wise man, who asked that his name not be used, said the key to progress is to first decide on the desired outcome. His desired outcome for downtown Roanoke, likely shared with many, is to get more people into it; both those living there and those visiting. With a visit frequency of at least once, or preferably twice per month.
The next step, he asserted, is to look at the assets that cause people to spend time in downtown – those things that are scarce or irreplaceable.
And with an emphasis on people who live downtown, to protect those irreplaceable assets. Prime among them, the wise man said, is open space, which provides “a place for them to walk the dog or to walk themselves.”
And that place, in downtown Roanoke, is Elmwood Park, where Red Light Management has suggested we should place our proposed amphitheater, owing to the site’s topography and proximity to downtown, among other things. Many have agreed.
Not so fast, opines the wise man: The approximately one-acre footprint of the facility, vacant 95 percent of the time and usable for only about half the year, would deeply compromise the irreplaceable asset of downtown green space.
The wise man suggests an activity toward finding the best spot for a possible Roanoke City amphitheater, an activity that perhaps the city planning department could take on if it hasn’t already: Equipped with an aerial view of downtown, cut a one-acre square piece of paper and place it here and there on that aerial view. Are there places – ideally radiating out from as close to the city market as possible – where such a square might fit without compromising the green asset?
Behind the new fire/EMS headquarters on the largely undeveloped slope from Franklin Road up to 2nd or 1st street? Somewhere near city hall? Somewhere between the market and Jefferson Center?
The wise man, again citing the goal to have more feet in the street in downtown Roanoke, said it bothers him to see council being tempted to devalue downtown’s primary open space.
He also provided the aside, with the same goal, of a downtown with a more-changing product, and cited the example of Charlottesville’s downtown six-plex, where sophisticated, changing product brings people downtown again and again for the basic activity of dinner and a movie. And in a building that’s used every day, with oft-changing product, and without compromising open space.